Knaggs Eric Steckel Kenai T/S: What is it?
There’s nothing quite like a solid-bodied single-cut for the boutique brands of this world to go to town on and show us just what they can do.
For many players, the Gibson Les Paul remains the platonic ideal when it comes to aspirational electric guitars, but that hasn’t stopped the world’s finest luthiers seek to refine and improve it or to take its basic premise and run with it.
In guitars as in life, there’s always a little more luxury if you have the pockets deep enough to pay for it. But perhaps we are doing Joe Knaggs disfavour in even referencing Gibson’s most-famous guitar as a signature Kenai for blues shred maestro Eric Steckel because, besides the familiar mahogany and figured-maple tonewood recipe, this is a very different design.
The shoulder of the guitar has a slight Telecaster vibe, the cutout has the suggestion of a hook to it, and the less rounded lower half of the body makes the Steckel Kenai’s waist look as though it sits a little higher.
The T1 figured maple top on this review model is matched on the rear of the instrument, and it’s a ridiculous detail, a most magnificent luxury. Think of it like a post-lunch martini on a Wednesday afternoon; sometimes it just has to be done.
There’s a heck of a lot of wood. In a good way. Besides some edge chamfering and a rib cage contour, the back is relatively flat. This one weighs in just under 9lbs and while that’s substantial, it’s no back-breaker, and nothing a thick padded guitar strap won’t ameliorate, and for many players, this would be the ideal weight for a Les Paul with no weight relief.
The body comprises a single slab of mahogany with a tastefully carved figured maple top. Other options include quilted maple or plain ebony but this Aged Scotch/Onyx finish is hard to take your eyes off. The purfling around the body’s edges is immaculate and gives the illusion of binding when we actually have the maple top stained charcoal grey with a black and white black strip inlaid on the edge.
As for the neck, Knaggs lists this as a C with a slight V and it is a palm-filling piece of mahogany without being overly thick, and it joins the body with a glued-in joint and a pointed boat-bow style heel. When Steckel first hooked up with Knaggs, one of his first thoughts on the Kenai model was that the body could be beefed up and the neck slimmed a little.
This neck is topped by an unbound East Indian rosewood fingerboard with a 12” radius. Topped by 22 medium jumbo frets, the fingerboard has Modern Morning Star inlays and terminates at a 43.38mm bone nut.
For hardware, we have a TonePros tune-o-matic-style bridge and stud tailpiece, and vintage-style Kluson Revolution tuners which have a 19:1 ratio and are housed in one-piece, sealed die-cast housings.
Knaggs and Steckel’s attention soon turned to the pickups. Of course, they had to be PAF-alikes. First, they tried the Bare Knuckle Mules as fitted across the regular Kenai line before getting Seymour Duncan to develop a pair of humbuckers based on a reference set pulled from a 1960 Les Paul Standard named Candy.
The Candy ‘buckers are what we have here and Seymour Duncan has made this Steckel signature set available as a part of their Custom Shop range of electric guitar pickups. With an Alnico III magnet, these have a DC resistance of 7.55k at the neck and 7.68k at the neck.
Knaggs Eric Steckel Kenai T/S: Performance and verdict
With pickups wound to match a 1960 reference Les Paul it is no surprise that Steckel’s Kenai’s sounds pull you deep down the rabbit-hole of vintage electric guitar tone. Steckel does something quite modern with his blues style; it can be a style that veers between pyrotechnic spectacle and minimalism but it is all carried on the broad-shouldered big tones.
• PRS McCarty
Classy, refined, versatile and perfectly balanced, the updated McCarty is more than worthy of the name on its truss rod cover and remains a stellar example of PRS's aspirational guitar design.
• Gibson Les Paul Standard '50s
Many of us get hung up on neck shape, and if ‘big’ is essential to you then the ’50s ticks that box. Listening acoustically is quite revealing. There’s a lot of crossover to be found in the new batch of models. There’s no doubt the ’50s is the statelier choice, wrapped in a rich low-end and slightly pulled back on the sizzle.
His Kenai is full of them. It is a hugely dynamic instrument, that – like all good Les Pauls – offers comprehensive EQ’ing before the guitar’s signal arrives at the next station on the signal path.
It can sound big and wide but without losing any note articulation. As with a high-end tube amp, there’s a clarity that will bring out the nuances in your playing. Going back to the pyrotechnics – which is really to say pinch harmonic squeals and blazing runs through an amp pushed into saturated overdrive – this really delivers and is sure to provide the perfect platform for a little showboating should the occasion call for it.
Equally, however, it excels when dialled down, with a tone that all but comes out of the speaker wearing a tux and ready to play a set of conservatoire jazz.
Much of the tones come from the interaction between the volume and the tone controls, each responding to the other, and allowing for plenty of sounds that might be described as in-between sounds – off-menu secrets that only those who’ve experimented with the vintage tone circuit on an old Les Paul will be familiar with.
Of course, you could just set everything at 10, put the bridge pickup through a favourite overdrive or fuzz and have at it. You won’t be disappointed. Likewise, the neck delivers all the sweet richness you could ask for, like creme patisserie spiked with a little XO brandy.
It’s decadent. But then, this whole Steckel x Knaggs collaboration is decadent, and it has produced an instrument of rare quality, and a compelling option for anyone looking to spend big on a high-end electric guitar that references vintage Les Paul tones while doing a lot more besides.
MusicRadar verdict: A boutique solid-bodied singlecut with tones to burn, Steckel and Knaggs have put together a special instrument that is available with a number of finish options.
Knaggs Eric Steckel Kenai T/S: The web says
"The Steckel feels like we’ve gone up a level – or five. It might look pristine, but its voice sounds older, more mature-sounding, aged. It’s not about output, it’s about the woody quality of the voice, the responsiveness, the depth and an almost smear to the note. It has a huge dynamic range, too. Show this the front-end of any cranked Marshall-inspired valve amp and prepare for take-off."
Knaggs Eric Steckel Kenai T/S: Specifications
- ORIGIN: USA
- TYPE: Single-cutaway, carved top, solidbody electric
- BODY: 1-piece mahogany with carved Tier 1 maple top and back
- NECK: Mahogany, Knaggs ‘C w/Slight V’ proﬁ le, glued-in
- SCALE LENGTH: 629mm (24.75”)
- NUT/WIDTH: Bone/43.38mm
- FINGERBOARD: East Indian rosewood, modern morning star inlays, 305mm (12”) radius
- FRETS: 22, medium jumbo
- HARDWARE: TonePros tune-o-matic-style bridge and stud tailpiece, Kluson Revolution tuners w/ ‘keystone’ buttons – all nickel-plated
- STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 51mm
- ELECTRONICS: Seymour Duncan Custom Shop ‘Candy’ covered humbuckers, 3-way toggle pickup selector switch, individual pickup volume and tone control
- WEIGHT (kg/lb): 4.05/8.91
- LEFT HANDERS: No
- FINISHES: Aged Scotch/Onyx (as reviewed), large range of opaque and trans colours – all gloss nitrocellulose
- CONTACT: Knaggs